Late Thursday afternoon, the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives took the first step toward capitulation on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. A few hours later, the amendment directing the Texas state healthcare bureaucracy to start preparing for the expansion was reconsidered and rescinded after a handful of conservatives scrambled to rescue the situation — but the fact that it passed at all is a wake-up call.
Here’s the bottom line: Texas is closer to caving on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion than people realize. It’s no surprise that Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, elected with the votes of Democrats and liberal Republicans, would let this happen.
What’s surprising — and disappointing — is that Governor Rick Perry is letting it happen.
Now, Rick Perry has been strong against the Obamacare Medicaid expansion from the start. Heck, he joined John Cornyn and Ted Cruz just a few days back to reiterate his opposition. That’s not the problem. The problem is twofold. First, it’s well known in Austin that though the Governor is against the expansion, his staff is soft on the issue. I’m told that arguments in favor of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion are popular with many on Perry’s policy and communications staff — and that Austin-based journalists are well aware that the majority of the staff is well to the Governor’s left on the issue.
That leads to the second problem: because Perry’s staff is weak, they haven’t given the Governor an alternative to endorse. He’s stuck saying “no” without any other options on the table. It’s not like those options don’t exist: just a couple blocks down Austin’s Congress Avenue, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has had a plan out for reforming rather than expanding Medicaid for weeks. And Ben Domenech just yesterday wrote a long piece on the many Republican alternatives to Obamacare in general. So there are options for Rick Perry to choose from. Just don’t follow Arkansas’s example.
But Rick Perry won’t choose an alternative to “no” because his staff won’t let him. If this looks familiar, it should: bad staff work sabotaged Perry in the 2011-2012 Presidential primaries too. It’s a chronic problem, and one that needs fixing sooner rather than later. Rick Perry isn’t a good Governor — he’s a great Governor. But this is his Achilles’s heel. Personnel is policy, and Perry needs to demand accountability, conservatism, and bold alternatives from his people.
Right now he’s not, and so they’re delivering exactly what he’s asking for.
When the conservative Governor of Texas won’t lead, the liberal Speaker of the Texas House will. Because Rick Perry won’t lead on an alternative to the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, Joe Straus’s House took the first step toward caving to Barack Obama — despite a 95-55 Republican majority in that chamber.
There’s no excuse for this happening in Texas. It’s time for Texas conservatives — and their conservative Governor — to wake up and take the reins before the 83rd Texas Legislative session spirals completely out of control.